God’s purposes and promises never fail.
And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. 2 So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. 3 And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. 4 And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. 6 And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. 8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
13 On the second day the heads of fathers ‘houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law. 14 And they found it written in the Law that the Lord had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, 15 and that they should proclaim it and publish it in all their towns and in Jerusalem, “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.” 16 So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. 17 And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing. 18 And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. They kept the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the rule. (ESV)
When God’s people are in the midst of difficult situations, it can be very easy to forget the faithfulness of God—or to be confident in him, if we would speak candidly. But God is faithful and able (2 Tm 1:12). The return of his people Israel to the land after the exile is evidence of both. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah, one book in the traditional Hebrew order, present God at work through many people. What is the Lord doing? He is restoring or rebuilding or revitalizing his old covenant people. From a human standpoint, this was a massive project, and only God could do the most important parts, like changing people’s hearts or making ungodly rulers willing to help his people. But Ezra and Nehemiah present a united testimony that God can do much more than we ask or imagine (Eph 3:20).
Structure of Ezra-Nehemiah
- The first return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the temple Ezr 1-6)
- Ezra’s return and reforms (Ezr 7-10)
- Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the wall (Neh 1-6)
- Nehemiah, Ezra, and the reforms (Neh 7-13)
Ideas and features of Ezra-Nehemiah
- Though parts of Ezra and Nehemiah are the words of these two men, it is not clear who the final human writer is. Perhaps it is the same person who wrote Chronicles
- There are many lists of people in Ezra-Nehemiah, and a number of official letters
- Prayer is prominent, as Biblical spirituality is rebuilt; when we believe in the true God, we must live by faith—actually relying on God to act for our good
- Both books speak to the need of the old covenant people to live according to the law of the Lord; God’s people must live in conformity with the covenant they are in at their time of redemptive history; today, we must live according to Christ and his better covenant
- The prayer in Nehemiah 9 contains a “mini history of salvation”
- Ezra and Nehemiah had to take drastic actions to enforce the law covenant on the nation after seventy years of exile; in God’s plan this was necessary for our Lord to live under the law and to fulfill it for us; it is important in the history of salvation
Exposition: In God’s providence, we arrive at this chapter very near to the time of the year when the events occurred. The date is somewhere around October, 445 BC. In other words, 2,459 years ago. The living God, who restored his old covenant people so long ago, is still able to restore us today!
I. The reading of God’s word (8:1-8)
1.The chapter opens on the first day of the seventh month, the day of the Feast of Trumpets (Lev 23:23-25). This is known as Rosh Hashanah, which happened a couple days ago. This day was to be a special Sabbath, set apart for the Lord. The people of Israel were to hold a sacred assembly on this day. This fact provided an excellent opportunity for Ezra to read the Torah to the people.
2.Ezra read to the assembly, which was made up of men, women, and children that were old enough to understand the word (8:2). Notice that all the people assembled in unity (“as one man”). This is crucial for God’s people (Ac 2:1, 44; Rom 15:5-7; Eph 4:2-3; Ph 4:2; Col 3:14-15). In the law covenant, women and children were not required to attend such assemblies, but the men were. In the new covenant, all believers are one in the Lord (Gal 3:27-28).
3.Ezra read on a high platform (8:4). This was wise, providing for a better opportunity for everyone to hear his words. Something like this doesn’t sound very spiritual, but it is necessary, because of our human weakness. Preachers have always sought the best locations from which we can speak God’s word clearly. Jesus did this, as did Paul. Spurgeon has much to say about it in his classic work, Lectures to My Students. (That is required reading for anyone who wants to preach God’s word!)
B.The act of reading and listening
1.He read aloud, and the people listened attentively (8:3). It is the preacher’s responsibility to speak clearly and boldly; it is the hearer’s duty to listen attentively—not thinking about other things or playing around with electronic devices or whispering to those next to you about matters not directly connected with listening to the word.
2.Ezra began by opening the scroll. When the people saw this, they all stood up. This is not a command but an example of their eager attention to hear the word. How do you demonstrate your eagerness to hear the word? Would anyone, including the preacher, know that you were very attentive?
3.When Ezra blessed Yahweh, the Great God (cf. Neh 9:32; Deut 10:17; Jer 32:18; Dan 9:4), everyone lifted their hands in praise (cf. 1 Ki 8:22; Ezr 9:5; Ps 28:2; 63:4; 134:2; etc.), and they said, “Amen, Amen” (cf. 1 Cor 14:16; 2 Cor 1:20). Then they bowed down and worshiped with their faces to the ground (8:6). Some of you because of physical weakness might not be able to do this. The Lord is gracious to us in our weaknesses. And no particular posture is required in worship. But putting our bodies in a posture of humility before the Lord is a striking confession of his majestic greatness.
4.The Levites helped the people understand what was read, probably meaning that they translated the original Hebrew into Aramaic, the language the people spoke after the captivity. This is why we strive to read from modern English translations. When the NTS were written, the Holy Spirit chose Koine Greek, the language of the people. This is also why we try to avoid technical vocabulary, unless it is necessary and clearly explained.
Dear preachers, do not seek to impress us with a snobbish vocabulary. Speak in the language of the people! If average people cannot understand what you’re saying, you have nothing to say, and you probably don’t understand what you’re saying anyway!
II. Two immediate responses to God’s word (8:9-12)
A.The people wept as they heard the words of the Torah (8:9).
1.God changes people through his word (Ps 19:7-9; 2 Tm 3:15-17; cf. 1 Pt 1:23). God the Holy Spirit uses the word to change our minds (repentance). A changed mind creates changed emotions, and the changed mind and emotions in turn change the will, our choices (cf. Rm 6:17; cf. 2 Cor 7:7-11).
2.The influence of the word was general. All the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law (8:9). As the following events demonstrate, this was the beginning of revival or restoration. Yes, I know, tears might mean little. But the lack of tears might indicate a hardness of heart before the Lord. Listen to James (Js 4:6-10). [For more on this subject, see Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors, pp. 170-214.]
B.They led the people to the right way to celebrate the day. Tears of repentance are good, but right spiritual experience does not end with them. We must be complete in our spirituality, and this requires joy as well as godly sorrow.
1.We will do well to understand the reason that Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites were instructing the people not to weep. Yes, their hearts were affected by the Torah, but the Lord did not intend for the Feast of Trumpets (Lev 23:23-25; Num 29:1-6) to be a time of sorrow but of joy. How do we know this? Consider the name of this feast and then listen to the purpose of the trumpets (Num 10:10). God gave this feast to them as a time of rejoicing! Notice how they say three times that this day, the Feast of Trumpets, is holy or set apart to the Lord. For this reason they must honor the set apart day with the joy that the Lord wants them to experience. True repentance requires us to respond to God in conformity with his written word. When we come to the new covenant, joy should be common (Gal 5:22; Ph 4:4; etc.).
2.To do this, they must have fellowship with the Lord. The Lord’s joy is the strength of his people. This requires us to have the correct view of God (1 Tm 1:11) God is happy, joyful! [For more on this subject, read Piper, The Pleasures of God. Go ahead; read the whole book!] Yes, Jesus was well-acquainted with grief, but he endured it to share joy with us forever. There are many Christians who need to stop drinking vinegar and sucking on lemons and to let the joy of the Lord strengthen them!
3. This will lead to enjoyment of God’s good gifts (8:10) and to the sharing of joy with one another (8:12). Notice that the understanding of God’s word resulted in shared joy.
Song: (from “When I Was Lost” by Kate Simmonds)
There is a new song in my mouth
There is a deep cry in my heart
A hymn of praise to Almighty God – hallelujah!
And now I stand firm on this Rock
My life is hidden now with Christ in God
The old has gone and the new has come – hallelujah!
Your love has lifted me
III. Another result from listening to God’s word (8:13-18)
A.The heads of the families gathered the next day to listen to the Torah (8:13-15).
1.Observe that they gave attention to the words of the Law. They searched the word and found out about the Feast of Booths. This searching would lead to more joy. It is worthwhile to read God’s word carefully. The word is a “delicious treasure” (cf. Ps 19:10).
2.The passage they read was Leviticus 23:33-43. There they read what the Lord wanted for them. Again, this was for their joy (Deut 16:13-17).
B.The people obeyed the word.
1.All the exiles that had returned did this (8:17). They had a joyous celebration during the Feast of Booths unlike any other since the time of Joshua—nearly one thousand years before. Think of this: for 1,000 years the covenant people of God had been robbing themselves of joy because of their disobedience to the Scriptures. They might have celebrated it, but not with the joy that the Lord intended. How many believers during these new covenant times rob themselves of great joy, because of a lack of faith, disobedience, and meager or wrong systems of teaching! I invite everyone back to the story of God’s glory in the Lord Jesus Christ. Come read the word with new eyes, be filled with the Spirit, and experience the joy of the Lord.
2.They kept all of the Feast to the end (8:18). The Lord Jesus did the same thing, as he fulfilled the law covenant. Read especially John 7:37-39. Since he did all that was needed, we can go to him by faith and receive the Holy Spirit.
Apply: Are you drinking, that is, believing on Jesus Christ? Come and receive rivers of living water!
Apply: Renew your confidence in the Lord to restore and to revitalize his church!
Pastor Dave Frampton
The faithful and spiritually profitable labors of Dave Frampton are featured here at CMC. As a Bible teacher he excels. Teacher and student alike will profit much from his labor in God’s Word. Visit Newtown Square Baptist Church.